Few athletes in any winter sport can match hockey star Jayna Hefford’s Olympic accomplishments.
Only teammates Hayley Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette, Soviet biathlete Alexander Tikhonov and German speedskater Claudia Pechstein can also claim they’ve won a gold medal at four consecutive Winter Olympic Games.
Hefford turned 37 in May and was the oldest player on the Canadian women’s hockey team that captured gold in Sochi, Russia, in February.
She’s now pondering her hockey future.
Hefford has worn the Maple Leaf at five Olympic Games and in a dozen world women’s championships.
The five-foot-five, 136-pound forward from Kingston, Ont., ranks second all-time for Canada in scoring and games played behind Wickenheiser. Among her 157 goals in 267 international games was the game-winner in the 2002 Olympic final in Salt Lake City.
Former national team coach Peter Smith once described Hefford as a “ghost” because of her ability to fly under the radar and suddenly produce a game-turning goal.
In this post-Sochi lull before the next Winter Olympic quadrennial ramps up, Hefford is taking stock.
The 3-2 overtime win over the U.S. for gold in Sochi will go down in Canadian hockey lore as a “where-were-you-when?” moment.
Trailing 2-0 with less than four minutes to play, Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin each scored to tie the game and Poulin struck again in overtime.
If that’s Hefford’s last game for Canada, it’s a sensational finale. And what else is there for her to win in women’s hockey? But achievements aren’t part of her current deliberations.
“It’s never really been about what I’ve accomplished,” she told The Canadian Press. “It’s always been about my passion for the game and wanting to challenge myself and wanting to be a part of the program, represent our country.
“It’s never really been about the accomplishments for me. If it were, maybe I would have retired after Salt Lake City after I won my first Olympic gold medal.”
Hefford still feels the pull to play, so she’s maintained her off-season training.
“The thought of not playing . . . not having that competitive intensity, that makes me a little bit sad because I think that’s part of what I really enjoy about it,” she said. “At the same time, I’m realistic and I know I’ve been very fortunate to do this for so long. It’s not going to last forever.”
Hefford was an assistant coach to Vicki Sunohara on the University of Toronto women’s team in 2012-13. She intends to help Sunohara coach the Varsity Blues again this winter and how much depends on whether Hefford continues to play or not.
Hefford and her partner Kathleen Kauth have a 16-month old daughter named Isla. Kauth played forward for the U.S. Olympic team in 2006.
“I’m really just trying to find out what I want to do, taking into consideration a lot of things whether that’s my age, my family, my level of motivation, what am I going to do after hockey?” Hefford said.
“There’s a lot of things to consider as an amateur athlete that maybe don’t enter into a pro athlete’s decision.”
Danielle Goyette was a 40-year-old forward when she played for Canada in 2006. Wickenheiser is about to turn 36. She doesn’t seem in a hurry to hang up her skates either.
Hefford relocated with Kauth and their daughter to Calgary a year ago when the Canadian women began full-time preparations for Sochi. It was a hectic, exhausting schedule of travel and training, as well as about 50 games.
Hefford and her family have returned to Toronto. The national team is less time-consuming in non-Olympic years.
The women will spend this season with their respective club or university teams and reunite for national-team camps. Hefford is a long-time member of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Brampton Thunder.
Canada’s only two international hockey competitions this winter will be the annual Four Nations Cup in November and the women’s world championship in April.
“It’s been an adjustment since Isla was born, but I have a family that was incredibly supportive of everything I’ve done,” Hefford said.
“The non-centralized years are more manageable in many ways, not having to relocate, our schedule isn’t quite as crazy. It’s definitely more manageable in the in-between years.”
Hockey Canada will hold a women’s team camp in September. Hefford says high performance director Melody Davidson isn’t pressing her for a decision on her future right now.
“I’ve talked to a lot of different people, people I’ve played with, but also former NHL players,” Hefford said. “Generally what I’ve heard is ‘play as long as you can, but you’re going to know when the time is right.“’